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Yesterday I photographed this caterpillar over at Sabino Canyon. It was happily munching away on a Turpentine Bush in full bloom when I found it.
I was blown away by this creature. I’ve never seen anything quite so spectacularly colored in all of my walking around and photographing things.
I was anxious to find out what it was and I was stumped for a while. But, with Ned Harris’ help I learned that this is a moth caterpillar of the genus Cucullia. Interestingly, these caterpillars turn into dull gray or brown moths lacking any of the caterpillars’ brilliant colors.
What also intrigued me about this caterpillar is: why is it so brilliantly and bizarrely colored? What possible evolutionary purpose could all of that chrome serve? And, then it occurred to me that this color could actually be a form of camouflage. The caterpillar doesn’t actually stand out all that much against the Turpentine Bush’s mass of brilliant yellow flowers. In fact, it blends in rather nicely with its background. Moreover, the bizarre pattern of stripes and black spots makes its shape kind of indistinct. One can see parts of the caterpillar if one looks closely, but the entire caterpillar is sort of hard to spot.
That reminded me of a camouflage technique used by allied cargo fleets and navies during the First World War. Beset by German U-Boats, they sought to paint their vessels in ways that would make them more difficult to torpedo. Someone came up with the totally counterintuitive idea of painting the ships in all sorts of odd combinations of zig-zags, stripes, geometric shapes, even polka dots, in odd color combinations. The allies called this camouflage technique “Dazzle” or “Razzle Dazzle” camouflage. It worked. Gunners on U-Boats found the vessels’ shapes harder to discern and lots of torpedoes missed their targets.
So, this camouflage scheme may be more more brilliant than odd.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 100, “M” setting, f11 @ 1/160.